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“Human Experience is the New ROI”: One Workplace and Steelcase’s Project to Bring Ancillary Design to its Clients

One Workplace, Steelcase, San Francisco, Marketplace on Maiden Lane, 2d, Two’s Company
Image Courtesy of One Workplace

By Meghan Hall

Office design is no longer driven by cubicle configurations, gray walls and monochrome furniture. More than ever, end users, architects and those in the AEC industry are looking to make work spaces places where employees actually want to be, an environment that they can truly enjoy. This trend has hugely benefited firms such as One Workplace, a commercial office furniture dealer and Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Steelcase, the largest office furniture manufacturer in the world, as companies look for innovative furniture solutions and ways to make the office feel like home. At the end of 2019, the two companies teamed up, along with Two Furnish and 2d to produce Marketplace on Maiden Lane, a showroom designed to elucidate end users on the plethora of ancillary products that can make offices appealing.

“The industry has experienced a huge cross-over effect with residential design blending into commercial spaces, and residential themed-spaces are becoming a much bigger part of our commercial work,” said One Workplace’s Director of Audience Development, Carolyn Clark Beedle. “It has gotten so important because of the way people are working; there are new ways of communicating, new hand-held devices so people work anywhere, different demographics. People are bringing in those expectations in a much grander way…People want [the office] to feel like home.”

This trend, continued Clark Beedle, means that employees look at the details, and at what are called “ancillary” touches. Those details exist beyond the traditional desk space and include items like lighting, paintings, biophilia and plants. 

“Ancillary now represents anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of projects,” continued Clark Beedle. “Offices should have art on the walls, tchotchkies, and things like that. It’s the décor element, which might have been called accessories before, but it is much more advanced and has more demand. And is very important.”

Additionally, emphasized Clark Beedle, fields like cognitive and neuroscience will become increasing factors as end-users learn how to best create comfortable environments for their employees.

“If we work more effectively when we are comfortable and all of our senses are firing, then how do we continue to create environments that offer that?” explained Clark Beedle. “Cognitive science and neuroscience will be big the more we think about the way that people feel; there will be a lot more emphasis placed on that.”

“We’re saying, ‘Human experience is the new ROI,’” Clark Beedle added.

This change, combined with the companies’ current location below Market Street in San Francisco, prompted them to team up and produce an innovative marketing concept that would introduce San Francisco’s commercial real estate community to the solutions that aim to go beyond traditional office requirements to address employee’s emotional, mental and physical well-being. Called Marketplace on Maiden Lane, the showroom features products from all four companies.

“Steelcase is South of Market, and so is One Workplace. We’re not right downtown in the middle. Even if you’re talking about San Francisco as a small, compact city, it is still difficult to get people to move around as effectively as you might like them. And, people have so much more interest in the experience these days. From a more practical [standpoint] designers could see objects as opposed to seeing them on a cut sheet or online.”

The companies sublet their 4,000 square foot space—secured in an off-market transaction—and had intentions to keep the pop-up open for about three months. However, according to Clark Beedle, the initiative has been widely successful, with plans to keep the pop-up open for longer in the future.

“It would say it’s been a huge, huge, huge success!” exclaimed Clark Beedle. 

The main theme of the space is the seasons, with each portion of the space representing spring, summer, winter or fall. To draw folks into the space, One Workplace and Steelcase worked with vendors to host a variety of events, including Moooi, a major designer from the Netherlands and Flos, a design and architectural lighting company from Italy. And, when CoreNet had its annual awards dinner across the street, at the Westin St. Francis Hotel across the street, Marketplace at Maiden Lane hosted a pre-party for the attendees.

“It’s been about constant programming,” continued Clark Beedle. “A lot of our design colleagues walked away with a much stronger understanding of what the offerings were. Every [vendor] had a story, and we had the opportunity to spend time with them and learn that story. When we think about what delights people today, that is the huge power of the pop-up…The way that the experience is absorbed by people is so much more powerful; they’re remembering it; they have a memory of the experience with an item.”

One Workplace and Steelcase have seen increasing interest in products placed in the pop-up, and the collaboration is one that the teams are likely to pursue in the future.

“The collaborative effort was incredibly successful. When collaborating to bring anything to the market, you’re commandeering the forces of many different organizations, and we’re all talking about the same thing,” said Clark Beedle. 

Affiliations have been around in the industry for a long time, stated Clark Beedle, but they are becoming increasingly commonplace.

“Steelcase has always had design partners like Coalesse and some of the other historical partners, those that have been around for decades,” said Clark Beedle. “But there’s a trend within the industry that Steelcase has been a leader in, with making affiliations with other companies and design partners that are bringing more choice into our portfolio. All of these brands are offering any type of ancillary you would be able to think of, or even things that you wouldn’t think of.”

While no formal plans for another collaborative pop-up are currently in the works, Clark Beedle emphasized it has opened the partners’ eyes as to how to best showcase their wares. 

“The learnings we have walked away with are definitely creating more thoughtful ‘what if’ scenarios,” said Clark Beedle. “It was about accessibility; it was about this new content, and it was about the experiences we are continually trying to create.”